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Apr 14, 2015
Fellows Showcase Impact of AWARD on Agricultural Research and Development

If we leave the women behind – that leaky pipeline— we will not be able to make progress in society.
Dr. Rafael Uaiene, Mozambique.

AWARD fellows from Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia showcased excellent progress in their agricultural research and development work at a share fair during the Southern Africa Regional Forum held in Lilongwe, Malawi, from April 14 – 16, 2015.  The Southern Africa Regional Forum provided fellows an opportunity to network, learn and share the knowledge they have gained during the course of their AWARD Fellowship, including the formal mentorship program.

During the share fair event, AWARD Mentors acted as the judging panel, assessing fellows’ presentation skills, progress in the lab, their interactions with smallholder farmers, influence within their institutions and the wider agricultural research and development sector. As part of their participation in the fellowship, AWARD Fellows are required to act as a mentor to a junior scientist, in their field. Fellows’ collaboration with their mentees was also assessed by the judges, who were keen to see the evidence of the fellows’ progress.

As a result of the AWARD courses in leadership, proposal and science writing, fellows talked of having improved their skills in these core areas, contributing to career growth. AWARD Fellows also gained visibility within their institutions and internationally through participation in conferences and publishing their research results. “Because of the AWARD proposal writing training, I wrote a winning proposal to the Google-funded Women Enhancing Technology (WE Tech),” said Madalitso Zelda Chidumu, a 2014 post-Bachelor’s fellow.

Fellows also spoke of personal growth as a result of participating in the AWARD program. “I am more confident, assertive and ready to make a difference in the lives of those around me,” Sharon Ndalula, a post-Master’s fellow from Zambia. N’sira Aurea Sylla, a post-Bachelor’s fellow from Mozambique credits the leadership course for improving her communication and conflict management skills.

Leaky pipeline

“If we leave the women behind – that leaky pipeline— we will not be able to make progress in society,”
said Dr. Rafael Uaiene, AWARD Mentor working at the Michigan State University, based in Maputo, Mozambique.  “It is not only fellows who learn,” said the mentor, adding that being an AWARD mentor gave opportunity to inspire younger scientists.

“Mentoring is a two-way process, I have benefitted from being a mentor,” said Patricia Mayuni, National Dairy Coordinator at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development in Malawi.  “I have built my networks and have been inspired,” said Mayuni whose first encounter with AWARD was as a fellows’ mentee.  She credits AWARD for inspiring her to further her education by enrolling for a doctoral degree.

Translating research outputs

During the regional forum, AWARD Mentors emphasized the importance of translating research outputs into language that can be understood by farmers.  “We must aim to reach out to farmers in the village,” said Professor Keto Mshigeni who translated his PhD research findings on seaweed farming into a Kiswahili booklet to ensure farmers could access the information. Mshigeni is mentoring Dr. Flower Msuya, a post-doctoral AWARD Fellow and senior researcher at the, Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. “I want my research to be applied, so I am engaging the community,” said Msuya whose collaborative research with Mshigeni has reached 24,000 people with farms in the ocean.

The impact of the fellowship goes beyond those participating in AWARD, but also the fellows and mentors’ institutions. “Women performing in my institution are those involved in AWARD as mentors and fellows,” said Dr. Tasokwa Kakota, an AWARD mentor from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Kakota said the women have become more visible in the institution as a result of their performance. “When you perform, people will notice and you will progress in your career.”

AWARD Fellows also received advice from the mentors on work-life balance. “Make arrangements that can meet your family needs, said Esperanca Chamba, a mentor from Mozambique who urged fellows to strike a balance between their domestic responsibilities and career goals. Dr. Judith Kamoto advised fellows to tap into the support network provided by the extended family.  Mentors urged fellows to continually strive for improvement. “The only room in AWARD is room for improvement,” said Prof Mshigeni.

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